What’s Going On With Colorado Air Quality?
BLOG| Chandra Rosenthal
When you think of Colorado, you probably imagine clear, blue skies and sunshine—that image doesn’t jibe with the air quality in much of the state. Colorado’s urban air quality is ranked 43rd out of 50 states by the US News & World Report 2019 Best States report. The state’s entire Front Range remains in violation of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) set by EPA and has been in noncompliance since 2012. Read More»
Whistleblowers On the Front Lines
Dr. Detlev Helmig
University of Colorado in Boulder
Dr. Detlev Helmig had been conducting research that involved the real-time monitoring of pollution from the oil and gas industry, and his work was revealing pollution spikes. In April 2020, he was terminated from the University of Colorado and removed from several major projects centered on polar climate science.
PEER and Dr. Helmig believe his termination was a result of his ongoing monitoring work on the oil and gas industry in Colorado. Dr. Helmig’s company had also been given the contract for real-time monitoring of the Suncor oil refinery, to be paid for by the company’s settlement following the spike in hydrogen cyanide emissions in 2018 that exceeded their permitted 12.8-ton limit by 1.3 tons. On April 29, 2021, Dr. Helmig’s legal counsel sent a letter to the National Science Foundation regarding misrepresentations in CU Boulder’s “investigation” of Dr. Helmig.
Air Permit Modeling Team
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
On March 15, 2021, the Air Division Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) ordered the air permit modeling team to cease checking for certain criteria pollutants in existing and pending permits. The air pollutants at issue are sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulates, which can result in unhealthy levels of ozone.
The Colorado Front Range—the area around Denver—has been in violation of National Ambient Air Quality Standards for these pollutants since 2012. The air pollutants at issue are sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulates, which can result in unhealthy levels of ozone. The Colorado Front Range—the area around Denver—has been in violation of National Ambient Air Quality Standards for these pollutants since 2012. Shortly after directing the modeling team not to check for said pollutants, CDPHE quietly removed its guidance document for air quality permits from the website. In response to the March 15 instruction, PEER filed a complaint on behalf of the air permit modeling staff with the US Environmental Protection Agency Office of the Inspector General seeking a performance review and audit of the CDPHE Air Division. PEER also sent a letter to the Executive Director of CDPHE that disclosures of air pollution violations are covered by the Colorado Whistleblower Protection Act.
In response to the OIG complaint, the Colorado Attorney General is seeking a Special Assistant Attorney General to conduct a narrow investigation of the improper non-enforcement by CDPHE. The investigation will only cover facts related to the allegations that permits were unlawfully issued, that CDPHE staff were ordered to falsify data in modeling reports, and what level of discretion CDPHE has under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards program. PEER is requesting that the scope of the investigation be expanded to include the designation and permitting processes for multiple coal-fired power plants and a gold mine. The request is related to a February 2 call for federal intervention to address ongoing violations of the Clean Air Act, particularly in light of the exacerbated impacts of COVID-19 on frontline communities harmed by air pollution.
Suncor Oil Refinery
The Suncor Oil Refinery is seeking new air and water discharge permits from Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, but Air Division employees were directed not to model short-term pollution. Read More»
Air pollution in Commerce City is made even worse by the ongoing expansion of Interstate 70 that broke ground in 2018. CDOT is also currently considering a proposed expansion of Interstate 270. Read More»
Xcel Power Plants
Air permits for the Cherokee Power Plant and Pawnee Generating Station were both issued under faulty air modeling and a disregard of multi-year emissions overages. Read More»
Gold and Fossil Fuel Mining
Several mines in Colorado received unlawful air permits that do not comply with National Ambient Air Quality Standards as a result of CDPHE leadership’s orders to staff to ignore or falsify emissions data. Read More»
Colorado balks at EPA Ozone Reducing Recommendations | Oct 24, 2022
EPA Validates Colorado Air Whistleblowers’ Charge | July 15, 2022
Federal Action Needed to Cut Colorado Air Pollution | May 10, 2021
Colorado Orders Staff to Ignore Air Pollution Violations | Mar 30, 2021
Allegations Against Climate Scientist Fall Apart | July 20, 2020
Arctic Climate Research Imperiled | June 23, 2020
Questionable Termination Undermines Climate Science | May 5, 2020